Population Pressure on Families: Family Size and Child Spacing
Joe D. Wray
Today's alarming rates of population growth, appropriately called the population explosion, are produced by the complex interaction of a great many factors. The effects of this growth at global or national levels have only rather recently become a matter of serious concern; the factors which produced the growth have been operating in the West for a long time. It is worth noting, though, that these factors, operating on families, began to produce population pressure at the family level long ago and that there is evidence that people in large numbers recognized the threats to their families imposed by excessive growth.
Let us recall that in the West birth rates began to decline at least a century ago and that this followed not long after death rates began to fall. If this had not occurred, if fertility rates* had remained at their previous high levels, then some western countries might have had a "population explosion" some time ago.
The explosion did not occur. Something happened to prevent it. Decades ago, long before contraceptive technology had approached the convenience or effectiveness demanded today, long before family planning services were readily available, when, in fact, publication of information concerning contraception sometimes brought persecution and imprisonment, fertility rates declined. At a time when national population policies were unheard of and a concern for the long-term effects of population growth was limited to a small band of Malthus' disciples, birth rates fell almost as rapidly as death rates.
What does this mean? It can only mean that thousands upon thousands of families wanted fewer children and managed, somehow, to achieve their goal—so successfully that the aggregate effect produced declines in fertility at
Joe D. Wray is a Field Staff Member for the Rockefeller Foundation, Bangkok, Thailand.
*The number of births per 1,000 women of child bearing age..